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2012 NFL Draft Preview: Guards/Centers

Posted Apr 20, 2012

Interior offensive linemen are often the forgotten ones in the trenches because the tackles grab most of the attention, especially now that the NFL has become so much of a passing league. But some of the most intense battles take place in between the tackles, and that’s where teams looking to establish a running game can gain an advantage by forcing opposing defenses to commit to the run. When that happens, the passing game opens up, which is why this group is so important.



This year’s crop of interior linemen are a good mix of powerful guards capable of pulling and standing their ground as well as top-flight centers in the mold of the Pouncey twins (Miami’s Mike Pouncey and Pittsburgh’s Maurkice Pouncey). Stanford’s David DeCastro, Kelechi Osemele of Iowa State and Wisconsin’s Kevin Zeitler top the list of guards, with Zeitler’s teammate on the Badgers, Peter Konz, and Michigan’s David Molk two of the top centers. Guard Amini Silatolu of Midwestern State is a sleeper pick along with Baylor’s Philip Blake.

BREAKING DOWN THE TOP GUARD/CENTER PROSPECTS (in alphabetical order)


DeCastro is actually considered by some to be a higher-ranked prospect than his left tackle at Stanford, Jonathan Martin, and is equally effective run blocking as he was protecting Andrew Luck. The Cardinal averaged more than 200 yards rushing per game the last two years with the likes of Toby Gerhardt running behind DeCastro. He was a three-year starter after redshirting his freshman year and is very athletic for being as big and strong as he is, capable of exploding off the ball while also displaying impressive balance both down the field and in pass protection. Like any top-flight prospect it’s difficult to pinpoint glaring weaknesses, so if there was one thing being talked about with DeCastro it was his inconsistency finishing downfield blocks in running situations. That should not prevent him from going as high as the top 10 next week.

Clearly the number one center in this draft, Konz also is the only one projected to go in the first round as he made all the line calls for the Badgers and worked well with quarterback Russell Wilson. He is refined as a blocker and occupies the middle well with his big frame, but he is athletic enough to move along the line of scrimmage and even pull when necessary, much like Pouncey did for the Dolphins last year. Konz’s injury history could impact his draft position as he skipped the Combine and had significant injuries in each of the last three seasons (dislocated ankle in 2011, a sprained ankle in 2010 and a blood clot in both lungs in 2009). Nevertheless, he will be the first center taken.

Molk is more of a traditional looking center, low to the ground and quick off the line, using his speed after snapping the ball to gain an advantage on his man. He won the Rimington Trophy as the nation’s top center and though he’s not as tall as the others he can pull just as effectively. However, his size can be a disadvantage against bigger defensive linemen employing a bull rush technique on him and he sometimes has difficulty seeing through the line to the second level. Depending on team needs as the draft progresses, Molk could sneak into the third round but more than likely will still be around on Saturday waiting for someone to take a chance on him based on his solid technique.v

By far the most impressive physical specimen among the interior linemen with his height and large frame, Osemele is projected as a tackle on some websites but can easily be a dominant guard at the next level. His strength is his run blocking as he can move just about any defensive lineman placed in front of him off of the ball, using his long arms and powerful punch to keep a distance between him and the man he is blocking. The fact that Osemele could be a better fit at guard might cause him to fall in the draft out of the early rounds because guards typically aren’t taken as high as tackles, plus he is thought to be a bit raw as a player.

Zeitler has a stranglehold on the No. 2 spot behind DeCastro among the guards and jumped off the film lining up next to Konz for the Badgers. A solid outing in Indianapolis, where he bench pressed 225 pounds an impressive 32 times, definitely helped Zeitler in the eyes of NFL scouts and GMs. He looked good again at his Pro Day with his polished technique and his strong leg drive should be enticing. However, Zeitler has difficulty adjusting to speed rushers and has shown a tendency to miss entirely when asked to block linebackers. The fact that he played on an experienced line in a competitive Big Ten should give Zeitler a chance to go higher than projected.

OTHER TOP GUARD/CENTER PROSPECTS AT A GLANCE (in alphabetical order)

Philip Blake (C)
6-2, 311
Baylor

Michael Brewster (C)
6-2, 312
Ohio State

Brandon Brooks (G)
6-5, 346
Miami (Ohio)

Amini Silatolu (G)
6-4, 311
Midwestern State

Brandon Washington (G)
6-3, 320
Miami (Fla.)

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